The first groups of Hasidim wishing to celebrate the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah (September 18-20) in Uman began arriving in Ukraine at the end of last month.
In order to combat the spread of a new type of coronavirus, on August 28, Ukraine closed its borders to foreigners, but this did not stop the Hasidic pilgrims, and on the eve of the holiday they began massively arriving at checkpoints with Belarus.
This led to the fact that about a thousand pilgrims (according to various sources, from 1,000 to 2,500) got stuck in the neutral zone between the borders of Ukraine and Belarus, attracting the attention of almost all Ukrainian media.
The Israeli media also write about the situation in which their compatriots have found themselves, however, as it turned out, in a somewhat different vein.
Ynet on August 26 arrests
Let's start with a more distant, but revealing incident. On August 26, Israeli media abounded with news that Ukrainian border guards detained 116 Israeli citizens at the Boryspil airport.
Ynet Israeli news site said several other people were detained in Odesa and Zaporizhya. Allegedly, the pilgrims, including children, were forced to spend the night at the airport, without food and all the time being under the supervision of Ukrainian law enforcement officers.
"We were placed somewhere at the airport, we have no light here, no air, no food, nothing... We did not even have cold water. On our behalf, forms were filled out that we are ready to return to Israel," the outlet cited one of the pilgrims.
It should be noted that the entire publication is based on the comments of the detainees.
For example, someone told Ynet that a Ukrainian policeman allegedly hit one of the pilgrims as he walked up the stairs, and someone claimed that law enforcement officers "let everyone in the airport, but not Jews."
The same news and a number of other similar ones that managed to gain a foothold in the front pages of the Israeli media were soon denied by the Ukrainian border guards: "This information does not correspond to reality. There was no detention of Israeli citizens at the Borispol airport."
Based on the words of State Border Service speaker Andriy Demchenko, the arrived foreigners simply went through the border clearance procedure.
And yet, despite its resonance, this story is lost against the background of current events on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border.
Situation at the border
Ynet writes that pilgrims sleep on the grass and suffer from lack of food and drink. Some of them have been here for three weeks.
The publication, citing official data from the Bratslav Secretariat, notes that in total from 1,000 to 2,500 people are stuck at the border.
Some pilgrims told Ynet about the smuggling that those with $ 3,000 could get to Uman by bus.
At the same time, the daily News.israelinfo.co.il calls the accusations against the Ukrainian border guards rumors:
“The pilgrims decided to cross the border with Belarus, as a rumor spread that for $ 3,000 per person, Ukrainian border guards are ready to let those who wish through the border. On the spot, the crowd was met with reinforced outfits.”
As Ynet describes, crowds of people stand on one side and insist on getting to the grave of Rabbi Nachman at any cost, and on the other side there is an armed cordon of Ukrainian law enforcement officers.
“Anger at the border is accumulating: in relation to Netanyahu, in relation to Deri, in relation to ultra-Orthodox MPs - less in relation to the Ukrainians themselves, who closed the borders to believers due to the spread of the coronavirus,” the news portal writes.
September 15, the outlet wrote that representatives of the Red Cross arrived in the neutral zone of the Belarusian-Ukrainian border to distribute food and blankets to people.
The Israeli radio station and the "Channel Seven" news site, describing the current situation, refer to the official statements of the Ukrainian and Belarusian authorities.
The day before, on September 15, Bratslav Hasidim called on the Israeli government to help those traveling to Ukraine:
“The situation is totally chaotic, with hundreds, if not thousands of Israelis, including adults, women, and children, stuck in no-man's land, unable to enter any country, and running out of food.”
September 15, News.israelinfo.co.il also noted the growing tension at the border.
"The tension on the border is growing, many pilgrims were left without food, and the secretariat of the Bratslav Hasidim calls for the Israeli Foreign Ministry to intervene. Clashes broke out between the border guards and the Hasidim. The Hasidic leadership blames the Israeli government for the situation."
Israeli "Kan 11" TV channel reported that on September 15, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri appealed to the Ukrainian side with a request to pay a short visit and try to find a solution to the issue, but his request was rejected.
The TV channel also recalled that official Kyiv pointed an accusing finger at its northern neighbor (meaning the call of the President's Office to the Belarusian authorities not to reassure the Hasidim with false statements), and noted that the current situation threatens relations between Ukraine and Belarus.
On September 16, the State Border Service announced once again that they did not intend to allow Hasidic pilgrims who are on the border with Belarus to enter Ukraine.
Speaker of the State Border Guard Service Andriy Demchenko recalled the closure of the Novi Yarilovychi checkpoint in the Chernihiv region, and stressed that no additional decisions were made on the entry of foreigners, in particular Hasidim.